Feature Articles: Business Sense

Recently I brought my intern along to a client meeting. When we left, she expressed amazement at the scope of our discussion. “There’s so much to think about,” she said. And, she’s right, it is sometimes staggering to think about what goes into running a successful label. So it’s not surprising when designers become overwhelmed by the many decisions and tasks they must perform each day. Even for seasoned veterans and talented multitaskers, the fact is, you can’t do it alone.

When Alexander the Great arrived on the shores of Persia, his army was severely outnumbered by his enemies. Despite the grim situation, he was not deterred. In fact, he was so emboldened with confidence in his ability to win, that he gave orders to his men to burn their boats. As their only means of possible retreat went up in flames, it has been said that Alexander turned to his men and said, “We go home in Persian ships, or we die.” As for me, I find I’m more conservative, feeling more comfortable having options. I like having a Plan B (and maybe a plan C too). It’s hard to argue a case for not having contingencies, especially for worst-case scenarios.

So you’ve managed to get your fashion business started, formed an entity, developed a business concept or product that has promise, established relationships with accountants, attorneys, suppliers, sales and PR contacts, and perhaps even lined up some customers. All very promising, but now your company needs to pay suppliers, as well as distribution and sales costs to get your product in the hands of customers. The real question then, particularly for an emerging fashion company, is how does your business plan to address its financing needs?

Every Friday night at 9 p.m. you will find me sitting comfortably on my sofa eagerly awaiting the next episode of one of my favorite TV shows – “Shark Tank”. What intrigues me most with this show is the Sharks’ ability to, within minutes, tell entrepreneurs exactly what is wrong or right with their business. Sadly, for many they hear what is wrong. Almost every time, the very first question out of a Shark is “What are your sales?” If the numbers they share tell the story of a company on the rise, growing at a reasonable, if not accelerated pace, then the Sharks will start to circle the entrepreneur with interest.

Here’s a little-known bit of trivia about me: I started my college career as a Biology major. Who knows where the idea came from, but I do know when I decided it wasn’t for me. After only a few afternoons spent in the lab, I realized that only interacting with beakers and Bunsen burners all day was a deal breaker. While all the other scientists seemed content to quietly putter away at their solitary tasks, my brain was screaming for more human interaction. Even though my days in the lab were brief, I do remember a few things from those mostly-forgotten science lectures. And surprisingly, a few of those lessons can be applied to the fashion industry.

Regardless of the state of the economy, “free” is and always will be good. Who doesn’t want help for their business at no cost? Previous options included reluctant friends and family members or possibly interns that may work for free. Within the last decade or so a new source of budget-friendly labor has emerged — the public at large. With the advent of the Internet, compounded by the introduction and immense popularity of social media, crowdsourcing has become a go-to resource for companies to address a variety of needs, from advertising to graphic design and product development.

If you’ve ever bought a mattress, you definitely have seen the tag securely sewn into a seam that says something like “UNDER PENALTY OF LAW THIS TAG NOT TO BE REMOVED EXCEPT BY CONSUMER.” Aside from being the subject of stand-up comedy routines, these tags actually are intended to inform consumers that the mattress is new (or not) and contains all new materials (or not), identify hidden filling materials, name the manufacturer, and state when and where it was made. You may even have noticed these labels are affixed to pillows, comforters and other sleep-related products –– but do they belong on diaper changing pads?

We are in the midst of the season of chocolate, roses and love; so it seemed only appropriate to talk about what makes consumers fall in love with a brand and more specifically how can you make them fall in love with yours. Getting consumers to fall for your brand will afford your company a certain level of financial stability with the repeat business that a committed relationship provides. However, this is easier said than done. Just as it is with our interpersonal relationships, it requires a concerted effort to find and foster a healthy relationship. For those willing to take the leap into love, most will agree that it is definitely worth the effort.

Why was it that when Apple introduced the first iPod in October 2001 they would go on to experience game changing success and revolutionize the way we prefer to listen to music? We would all love to have an Apple-like story, wouldn’t we? Whether intentional or not the most successful companies are those that tap into one or more consumer insights. If you want to intentionally uncover game-changing insights all you need to do is look around you –– they are everywhere just waiting to be seen. The secret is to think globally, and then filter the insights down to your category.